Dec 6, 2009

Thou shalt not kill

During a recent Bible study the following question came up; did God tell the Israelites to kill all of their enemies, including women and children?

The short answer is Yes, but the big question is why?
Before we can answer why, we need to know the context, who exactly did this command affect.
Dt20:10 If at any time thou come to fight against a city, thou shalt first offer it peace. 11 If they receive it, and open the gates to thee, all the people that are therein, shall be saved, and shall serve thee paying tribute. 12 But if they will not make peace, and shall begin war against thee, thou shalt besiege it. 13 And when the Lord thy God shall deliver it into thy hands, thou shalt slay all that are therein of the male sex, with the edge of the sword, 14 Excepting women and children, cattle and other things, that are in the city. And thou shalt divide all the prey to the army, and thou shalt eat the spoils of thy enemies, which the Lord thy God shall give thee. 15 So shalt thou do to all cities that are at a great distance from thee, and are not of these cities which thou shalt receive in possession. 16 But of those cities that shall be given thee, thou shalt suffer none at all to live: 17 But shalt kill them with the edge of the sword, to wit, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, and the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, and the Hevite, and the Jebusite, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee: 18 Lest they teach you to do all the abominations which they have done to their gods: and you should sin against the Lord your God.

So this command specifically relates to the Hethites, Amorrhites, Chanaanites, Pherezites, Hevites and Jebusites; the tribes who lived in land of Channan before God gave the land to the Irsaelites.

But why? Was this some sort of Divine arbitrariness, a preference for one tribe over 6 other tribes for no particular reason. The answer is No. These tribes were being punished for something they did, and the Israelites would be punished in the same manner if they did likewise.

But what could be so heinous that would cause God to wipe out an entire people, for God to commit genocide as it were? There is an answer, and an answer that I think reasonable people would be forced to accept. Unreasonable people would allow this heinousness to continue unabated, but I am addressing reasonable people here because I believe the Judeo-Christian heritage is eminently reasonable.

So what did they do that was so bad? They killed through ritual sacrifice their own children.
Lv18: 1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: I am the Lord your God. 3 You shall not do according to the custom of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt: neither shall you act according to the manner of the country of Chanaan, into which I will bring you. Nor shall you walk in their ordinances. … 21 Thou shalt not give any of thy seed to be consecrated to the idol Moloch, nor defile the name of thy God. I am the Lord. … 24 Defile not yourselves with any of these things with which all the nations have been defiled, which I will cast out before you, 25 And with which the land is defiled: the abominations of which I will visit, that it may vomit out its inhabitants. 26 Keep ye my ordinances and my judgments: and do not any of these abominations. Neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you. 27 For all these detestable things the inhabitants of the land have done, that were before you, and have defiled it. 28 Beware then, lest in like manner, it vomit you also out, if you do the like things: as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

The religious texts discovered at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), near the Mediterranean coast of Syria, have provided a remarkable picture of the religion of the Canaanites; El chief god & father of the 70 gods, Asherah was El’s consort and mother of all the gods also the goddess of fertility and her symbol was the wooden pole. In the Ras Shamra texts, Baal was the god of rain and fertility whose name means “master,” “owner.” Anath was the consort of Baal, the goddess of war and sexuality.
The sacrifice of the firstborn is attested in Canaanite religious texts.

Of course a husband and father could not simply announce to his wife "honey, I'm sacrificing little johnnie to appease the gods" No, the wives had to be in on it, and the other children as well.

Lv20: 1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: If any man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that dwell in Israel, give of his seed to the idol Moloch, dying let him die. The people of the land shall stone him. 3 And I will set my face against him: and I will cut him off from the midst of his people, because he hath given of his seed to Moloch, and hath defiled my sanctuary, and profaned my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land neglecting, and as it were little regarding my commandment, let alone the man that hath given of his seed to Moloch, and will not kill him: 5 I will set my face against that man, and his kindred, and will cut off both him and all that consented with him, to commit fornication with Moloch, out of the midst of their people. … 22 Keep my laws and my judgments, and do them: lest the land into which you are to enter to dwell therein, vomit you also out. 23 Walk not after the laws of the nations, which I will cast out before you. For they have done all these things: and therefore I abhorred them. 24 But to you I say: Possess their land which I will give you for an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from other people.

Dt12: 30 Beware lest thou imitate them, after they are destroyed at thy coming in, and lest thou seek after their ceremonies, saying: As these nations have worshipped their gods, so will I also worship. 31 Thou shalt not do in like manner to the Lord thy God. For they have done to their gods all the abominations which the Lord abhorreth, offering their sons and daughters, and burning them with fire.

Sadly, the Israelites eventually did copy the Chanaanites.
Ps105/106: 34 They did not destroy the nations of which the Lord spoke unto them.
35 And they were mingled among the heathens, and learned their works:
36 And served their idols, and it became a stumbling block to them.
37 And they sacrificed their sons, and their daughters to devils.
38 And they shed innocent blood: the blood of their sons and of their daughters which they sacrificed to the idols of Chanaan. And the land was polluted with blood,
39 And was defiled with their works: and they went aside after their own inventions.
40 And the Lord was exceedingly angry with his people: and he abhorred his inheritance.
41 And he delivered them into the hands of the nations: and they that hated them had dominion over them.

So while the Hethites, Amorrhites, Chanaanites, Pherezites, Hevites and Jebusites had a long standing practice of killing their own children, only some of the Jews fell into this abhorrent ritual human sacrifice, and fell into it rather late historically speaking, so God punished the Jews to a lesser degree.

Hosea 4:14 I will not visit upon (punish) your daughters, when they shall commit fornication (whoredom), and upon your spouses when they shall commit adultery: because themselves conversed (separated) with harlots (whores), and offered sacrifice with the effeminate (harlots), and the people that doth not understand shall be beaten (fall).

I would argue that this lesser punishment, following the complete punishment of the Hethites, Amorrhites, Chanaanites, Pherezites, Hevites and Jebusites, worked, because ritual child sacrifice is virtually non-existent today. But then again, we are an unritualistic people, so we might have to address the question if abortion is an unritualistic child sacrifice.

End note
The evidence that Phoenicians ritually sacrificed their children comes from four sources, all of which are hotly debated. Classical authors and biblical prophets charge the Phoenicians with the practice. Stelae associated with burial urns found at Carthage bear decorations alluding to sacrifice and inscriptions expressing vows to Phoenician deities. Urns buried beneath these stelae contain remains of children (and sometimes of animals) who were cremated as described in the sources or implied by the inscriptions.
Evidence from archaeology. The burned bones found inside jars from the Carthage Tophet provide conclusive evidence for Phoenician child sacrifice. Animal remains, mostly sheep and goats, found inside some of the Tophet urns strongly suggest that this was not a burial ground for children who died prematurely.

No comments :